Vietnamization at Vinh Gia

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Richard H Dick James

54 years ago, June 1967, I was the Staff Sergeant Demolition Sergeant, Heavy Weapons Leader and junior Radio Operator on Detachment A-422 (Vinh Gia), 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), in the western Mekong Delta (IV Corps) of South Vietnam, 2,000 meters from the Cambodian border.

I was on my 6-month voluntary extension in Vietnam. Our team officially turned Camp Vinh Gia over to the LLDB (VN Luc Luong Doc Biet, aka VN Special Forces) on 27 June, as scheduled, making Vinh Gia the first SF CIDG (VN Civilian Irregular Defense Force troops, aka our indigenous “mercenaries”) border surveillance camp in IV Corps, to be operated by the LLDB alone. It also became the second CIDG camp in Vietnam to be turned over to the LLDB, the first being Plei Mrong in II Corps, on 1 May. “Vietnamization” had begun in Special Forces.

Most turnovers went well, but a turnover that went poorly was one in 1968, at Ben Soi (A-321). It had been turned over to the LLDB. The Vietnamese commander was reticent to send operations out, thereby endangering the security of the area. It became so bad that 5th Group had to resume control of the camp. Before we departed, the Vietnamese threw a big going-away party. It was quite a feast. Food and drink was plentiful. The only drawback was that we thought part of the feast meat might have been our pet dogs, because all of them disappeared shortly before the party. The last week we were there a lot of things mysteriously disappeared, including personal belongings, my personal etched Zippo lighter among them. It was frustrating.

On the 30th we loaded all our personal gear, and all our team personnel boarded some of the camp fiberglass river assault boats and motored up the Vinh Te Canal to the B-team at Chau Doc. The grin on the LLDB commander’s (CPT Tram Ngoc Nam) face was priceless. He looked like he was ecstatic about our departure. Now he could make his “millions” bilking the Camp Fund out of money. He no longer had to pussyfoot around the watchful eyes of our team executive officer, who had watched over all money spent in, and for, the camp. During the entire 30-mile trip, we sat in the boats with our M-16s across our laps, and .45-caliber pistols on our hips, ready for instant use, keeping watchful eyes on both sides of the canal. We knew we were crossing some VC major infiltration routes and some locations that were excellent ambush sites. We also passed near the base of the Seven Mountains, which were crawling with enemy troops, and still basically owned by the enemy. Upon reaching Chau Doc, we picked up our personal gear, and got off the boats, walking to the Chau Doc B-42 compound. Three of us were assigned to the B-team; CPT Morris as S-3 (Operations Officer), SSG Smith as Radio Operator Supervisor, and SSG James (me) as Radio Operator. Smitty and I were assigned there because we were short-timers, with only three months remaining in country.

We carried our equipment to our assigned rooms, to settle in, while the remainder of the team set up temporary residence in the transient quarters, awaiting transportation to their new assignments. As soon as we had a chance, after signing in, we all met in the B-team bar to drink to good friends being split up. 1LT Robert Tomlinson was transferred to Ba Xoai (A-421), south of Chau Doc, in the Seven Mountains region. SFC Blalock was assigned to Thuong Thoi (A-432), as its Intelligence Sergeant. SFC Art Kownslar, our Intelligence Sergeant, was assigned to My Phuoc Tay (A-424) as its Intel Sergeant, and later, Team Sergeant. He was also promoted to Master Sergeant. SGT Gilchrist, our Medical Supervisor was assigned to Tri Ton (A-426). Our Medical Specialist, SP4 Ken Evec was assigned to Camp Tinh Bien (A-423), southwest of Chau Doc. He was promoted to SGT shortly after his arrival. I don’t know where SGT Greene went. It was reported that there were 448,800 American military personnel in South Vietnam on 30 June. MACV also reported that 7,586 enemy were killed during the month of June, and 1,644 surrendered under the Chieu Hoi program. Allied losses totaled 1,603, of which 704 were Vietnamese, 830 American, and 69 from other free-world units. From my book #4 (“SLURP SENDS! A Green Beret’s Experiences in Vietnam Book 4”), of my four-book set of “SLURP SENDS!” Books #1 (“SLURP SENDS! On Becoming a Green Beret Book 1”), #2 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of an A-Team Green Beret Book 2”), #3 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of a Green Beret in Vietnam Book 3”), and #4 are available on Amazon, or from me.PHOTO: Our final team photo (front: Sam, our operational dog; 1st row [L to R] CPT Alvin B. “Buff” Morris [Commanding Officer] SGT Mike Gilchrist [Medical Supervisor], 1LT Robert Tomlinson [Executive Officer], SFC Claude Blalock [Operations/Team Sergeant], SSG James Smith [Radio Operator Supervisor], SGT Mike Greene [Light Weapons Leader]; 2nd row SSG Richard “Dick” James [Demolition Sergeant/Radio Operator/Heavy Weapons Leader], SP4 Ken Evec [Medical Specialist], SFC Art Kownslar [Intelligence Sergeant] / LLDB send-off committee [middle two are the LLDB CO and LLDB Team Sergeant] / Loading in our assault boats for the trip to Chau Doc / CIDG troops waving good-bye, including LLDB CO on the left looking VERY happy (my photos)SLURP SENDS!

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